Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Reading Graphically: Graphic Novels at a Glance

This year, I have embraced graphic novels for the unique and rich experience they are.

I was in grade school when I read Black Beauty for the first time, as a graphic novel. My 9-year-old mind understood that it wasn't quite the novel, but when it came to animals, I was willing to make adjustments. I loved that story, and that horse, and it deeply affected how I see the world.

Somewhere along the way, I confused comics for graphic novels, and they lost their attraction. Born-again Christian Archie comics have their own charm, but they were more vapid than marshmallow-fluff. 

Now, however, I am reclaiming the graphic novel for myself, and I am enjoying our reacquaintance.

It began earlier this year with Illegal, an excruciatingly beautiful and painful story about a youth's journey to join his older brother and sister across desert and ocean. The journey is brutal and treacherous, and the boy takes wild, desperate, unimaginable risks. For months, he lives by his wits, teams up with other desperate people, and sacrifices everything to find safety.

When I was finally brave enough to trust another graphic novel, I reached for a book that was well-received by critics but completely unknown to me: the Man-Booker award winning Sabrina. It was not a pleasant experience. The story was difficult to follow and the characters were hard to tell apart (they were all square-shaped, and heads and hair looked like Weebles). I couldn't quite follow any storylines. The small-size san serif handwritten script was difficult to read, and some pages were almost completely filled with small speech bubbles of conspiracy theorist meanderings. I also suspect undefined animal cruelty. For a couple of days, neither I nor the characters had a clue as to what was happening in the story.

But library book due dates provide a sense of urgency, so I grabbed a stack of my recently-borrowed books and settled into a soft chair with a cup of tea and a few cookies to binge.

With a military uniform and yellow star on the cover, A Family Secret could have been an unapproachable book. However, the drawings were soft, round, and approachable, and I needed to discover the family secret for myself. So did Jeroen, who figured maybe Gran had cool things he could sell at the annual Queen's Day flea market. Gran had some items, and a story to tell about her family's experiences during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. Gran takes us back in time to show us her experiences, and the surprise ending left me in tears. It was well written and beautifully illustrated, and did not flinch from the truth.

Next, I went with a simple line-drawing quirky little novel titled everyone's an aliebn when ur a aliebn too. I so needed that. Every page was filled with love, wonder, appreciation, and innocent observations presented in black and white. So much happened to the little pot-bellied aliebn in those pages: seasons, friendships, work relationships, a clever reference to The Giving Tree... it was a balm after so much sadness and confusion. I adored that clever novel, and I plan to re-read it soon.

Now, imagine you're an illustrator of a successful graphic novel series that features mice. You and your illustrator buddies want to write a book together for the series, but their styles are very, very different from yours and from each other's. There should be a way for everyone to write a book together, right? Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard accomplishes that feat. The premise is charming: one night, an innkeeper offers to wipe the tab of the mouse who tells the best tale. Each mouse tells a different tale penned by a different artist. Each story was unique, each artist displayed their own individual style, but each tale was truly part of the whole. I like woodland creatures, and stories, and good illustrations, and this book ticked each of those boxes.

It was a great binge, and a wonderful reminder that so much can happen on a page when text and graphics join forces. The stack of library books is getting shorter, but there are still some great titles waiting for me. I'm not sure if I'll start next with dogs or maybe a panic-stricken teenager — should I judge a graphic novel by its cover? — but no matter which I choose, I will have a very interesting read.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Summer Reading: Are You Ready? Join the Club!

When Memorial Day comes around, my mind goes to two thoughts: gratitude for those who have given their lives to defend my rights and freedom, and summer reading.

The first book of the summer will combine both: Dogs of War, a graphic novel I discovered at my library.

After that is anybody's guess. Oh, I make a list, check it twice, and read some of the titles — but most summers, I stray from the list because the next new book captivates me, and I lose track of all of the books.

The best part? It's the beginning of the 2019 Summer Reading Club, which lasts from the Friday before Memorial Day to the first day of autumn — so, this year, from May 24 through September 23.

To join the club, just send me a message or comment below, then read as much as you wish. Spend long summer days lounging with a book and a cold drink. I want you to be so immersed in your books that you forget about lunch. The club member who reads the most will receive a book from me. You get a book you like, I get to give it to you: that's a win-win!

In return, I ask that you give back. For every book read, I want you to pledge time or money: donate to the public or school library, little free library, or literacy program of your choice. Choose cash (a buck a book, or the cost of all books read, or even a copy of the books themselves) — or find out how your library or literacy program prefers its donations. Remember: volunteer hours are an excellent way to give back, whether it's to the library or another organization of your choice.

So, back to the matter at hand: books. Right now, I foresee a Summer of Sequels, which includes (in no particular order): 

  • Of Blood and Bone
  • The Map of Days
  • Waking Gods
  • Wolf Hall
  • Lady Cop Makes Trouble
  • Time's Convert
  • The Bear and the Nightingale
  • As Chimney Sweepers Turn to Dust
  • The Map of Time (re-read)
  • After the End of the World
  • The Storm of Locusts
  • Mary Poppins Opens the Door
  • Peril in Paperback: A Bibliophile Mystery
  • Probable Paws: A Mystic Notch Cozy Mystery

Oddly enough, I am not really a fan of book series. Under most circumstances, I rarely continue beyond the third or fourth book, especially if there seems to be no end to the series or there are large gaps between the installments. I will pretend I waited until now to start the Cromwell series because Hilary Mantel has a publication date for the final book of the trilogy; thank you for playing along.

Here are a few other titles on my nightstand I'll add to the mix:

  • Severance
  • No Visible Bruises
  • Children of Blood and Bone
  • Where the Crawdads Sing
  • Small Great Things
  • Empire of the Ants
  • Gingerbread
  • I was Anastasia
  • One Day in December
  • The Book of the Unknown
  • The Lilac Girls
  • We Were Eight Years in Power
  • Behind the Scenes at the Museum
  • The Keeper of Lost Things
  • 4 3 2 1
  • Anything is Possible
  • Norse Mythology
  • The Power
  • Hamilton: The Revolution
  • The Intuitionist
  • Ready Player One
  • The Book of Harlan
  • The Lost City of Z
  • The Gun Seller
  • The Lowland
  • And the Mountains Echoed
  • Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter 
  • The Sixth Extinction
  • Bellman and Black
  • Just Mercy

Warning: my "finished" list will most likely look very different than the list above. That's fine. Your list probably will, too. If you share your STBR (Summer To Be Read) list with me, I am glad to share it with your fellow clubbers — or you may post it in the comments below.

We are all friends here. We do not judge each other's reading choices or media. Enjoy your E.L. James or your Encyclopedia Brown. Listen, or look at a page or pixel. Your fellow readers may ask questions, maybe offer suggestions for other similar reads or good book resources, and we always appreciate reviews or feedback. Reader to reader, we can have fun. 

Best of all, no pressure! No matter how many books you read (or don't), you are still a reader and we're glad you're in the club.

So, who's in? Let me know!

Thursday, May 16, 2019

What Can Be Better Than a Library Book Sale?

I love a good library book sale, and my local library booster club has been known to have a healthy stash of good books. For a while, however, I struggled to find books I didn't already own.

Until Saturday.

That morning, I remembered (quite to my surprise) that this was Book Sale Day Two. And I was rather excited. This surprised me: I am not a Book Sale Day Two shopper. Usually, I visit the library for a late lunch on Book Sale Day One, when I beat the crowd and rub elbows with the seniors and college students — but that Friday, I was lunching with friends and sharing book recommendations.

It's not that I didn't have plenty of new or new-to-me books on my nightstand, poised and ready for their bookmarks (or, as some people call them, "quitter strips"). The previous week, three envelopes and a large box, all filled with books, arrived on my doorstep. Helen Oyeyemi was at Politics & Prose across the river, and I ordered seven of her books; not just her latest, Gingerbead, but the others in her repertoire that sounded amazing.

Then there was The Lost Gutenberg — not the real one, but the book on the topic. A book about a book? Sign me up! (Well, click "order now" on Amazon.)

And literally the night before the library book sale, I stopped by the local Barns & Noble for a copy of one of the books recommended at lunch, Where the Crawdads Sing.

But no matter how many books are in the queue, library books sales cannot be ignored.

Armed with $30 in cash and two large bags, and wearing my gym clothes for flexibility and comfort, I breached the fray at the City of Fairfax Regional Library.

Hardbacks, audio CDs, mass paperbacks, and trade paperbacks, some oversized and a few tiny books lined the halls, spilled into the foyer, and covered every square inch of every meeting room in the library. And that doesn't count the dozens of library carts full of $1 hardback novels on the sun deck (and thankfully, the sun held out during the sale).

I should have brought backup. (Note to self: bring a non-bookie for muscle next time.) My arms were aching by the time I made it to the sun deck to peruse the hardbacks. I put back a few trade paperbacks that duplicated titles on my Kindle to make room in my arms, but only reluctantly: just because I own one format doesn't mean I can't own two, or three. Why limit myself, I rationalized: sometimes only a particular material will do.

After 90 minutes, I had to surrender. My two bags were full, I stuffed a couple of paperbacks in my purse, and I came out $1.50 under my budget. (Note to self: bring $40 next time.) When I told Peggy, my book sale cashier and longtime friend, to keep the change in case someone came up short, she whispered, "No one ever comes up short at the library book sale."

Then she slyly reminded me that the following day was Bag of Books Day: $5 for an entire grocery-bag full of books. I winked at her: challenge accepted.

On Sunday, I went, I stuffed a bag full of books, and I walked out with lots of books for my neighborhood Little Free Library.

To be fair, I knew the books I put back the previous day weren't going to be there — but that wasn't going to stop me. Inside, I am still that 17-year-old college freshman going home with a stenographer's handbook, a book of badly drawn cartoons, and a cheap paperback beaten all to hell with a cover that kind of scares me.  On Bag of Books Day, no books are left behind.

This book sale took four books off my wishlist: I was Anastasia, The Circle, American Housewives, and Beloved. .

Now, I have a print copy of A Man Called Ove, a book my friend Carole loaned me saying simply, "This is a Chris book." (She was right.) I returned the favor by sharing Sleeping Giants with her so we could read it together. (Her husband Steve read a few pages and decided to read it next. My bookish heart is full.) I had the e-book for a year, but it took a recommendation from Anne Bogel and the library book sale to make it a reality.

I have books in the car that I need to drop off at friends' houses, and a few that belong in the Lunchroom Lending Library (L3) I launched at work.

I did all this the weekend before Independent Bookstore Day — what was I thinking? — but I won't slow down. Not when it comes to finding and reading and owning and sharing good, previously read and loved books. Not when it comes to supporting my public library. Not when it comes to encouraging the love of reading in my family and in my community.

So, does anyone want a copy of Manhattan Beach, or maybe Goodbye, Vitamin? It just so happens I know where you can get one for a song....